Most 21-year-olds in Florida this weekend will enjoy sun and fun on their Spring Breaks, but Josef Newgarden (Twitter: @josefnewgarden) will race through the Streets of St. Petersburg for a solid finish in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut race.
The new driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car won the Firestone Indy Lights season opener in St. Petersburg last year, and went on to win the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship. Earlier this month, Newgarden completed his first IndyCar test at the Sebring (Fla) International Raceway. He finished the test 15th overall on the combined time sheet with a lap of 52.6551 seconds at 114.177 mph, ahead of several IndyCar veterans.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is entering the Streets of St. Petersburg with positive momentum after scoring its first IZOD IndyCar Series victory late in the 2011 season at Kentucky Speedway.
Along with his team, Newgarden will take the first steps in St. Petersburg in what promises to be a competitive IndyCar season. Newgarden will compete against two other drivers for Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, while his team adjusts to a brand new car in its DW12 Honda-powered Dallara.
There will be a steep learning curve for all IndyCar teams this year with the introduction of new cars, and Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing are poised to prove that they will be contenders in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series.
“JOSEF NEWGARDEN (Nashville, Tenn.)
At Sebring you had some strong laps. How do you feel about your car? “The car is really cool, really fun to drive. I don’t think it’s too dissimilar from the Lights car, to be honest with you. It’s got a lot more downforce so you really feel that in the high-speed corners. The car feels completely different in the high speed compared to the low speed, but it’s still a car with four wheels and you’ve got to turn the thing. So it’s not too different when you look at it from that angle.”
You’re a few days away from your first IZOD IndyCar start. What’s been going through your head? “There’s a lot of things that have been going on, but what does feel right is everything that I’ve got going on with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. I’m driving a race car and that feels right to me. I think that’s the best thing for me, because when I get to the race track with them and get in the car that’s where I feel most comfortable. I’m really excited to get back to St. Pete and get in the car and start working with the guys on the setup for the car. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now, and there’s not much longer to go.”
You always have a smile, why are you so happy? “How can I not have a smile? I’m an IndyCar driver, which is an unbelievable statement to be able to make! Even before this opportunity with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing I was driving race cars for my job and not many people get to do that. I try to cherish every moment and certainly this opportunity is a very big deal for me. I’m trying to take advantage and make the most of it.
“SARAH FISHER (Owner, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing)
What are your goals for the team for the first race of the season? “We are really focused on maintaining the steady progress our team has made this off season, especially that which we made over the last couple weeks. It is important to keep an eye on the big picture - but still deliver results right out of the box. The delivery of a strong weekend would no doubt enable us to help solidify some of the pending sponsorships we have been working toward.”
I’m sure February and March were stressful for the team. Talk about any changes you’ve seen in the team since securing the engine program and then having a positive test. “Our family culture kicked into high gear, with everyone from the top-down, putting their best face forward to pull off last minute testing and finishing up all our preparation for the season. (Husband) Andy (O’Gara) and I are very fortunate to have a talented and devoted blend of people that work very well together and know that with hard work, another “W” is just around the corner. Seeing Josef do so well in testing gave everyone confidence toward yet another record-breaking season. We have genuine people who all believe in the big picture and given the tools, can accomplish great feats together.”
How well did Josef work with the team at the Sebring test? “It was like watching a puzzle put itself together without flaw. Josef fits very well into our team and its family culture. The new SFHR mold that has already developed is just incredible. It’s exciting to think of the potential. Like a kid at Christmas, my eye is on St. Pete.”